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"I saw this place [I Paparazzi] as very big and thought it would be a nice place to play, so I asked for an audition. They said they already had musicians and they didn't want any more. I asked them to at least listen to me and, if they wanted, give me the opportunity to play in the daytime. So I auditioned for the owner. After I played three songs, he offered me a one-year contract."
Fabian Basabe, I Paparazzi's owner, tells a slightly different story. "Alex began by helping out the musicians we already had playing at night. We gave him a chance to play during lunch, and that's when he started proving himself. It has been a gradual evolution. His willingness to learn and his ability to catch on to ideas quickly have helped him. Plus, he's a showman. He's made coming to our restaurant more than just having dinner; he's made it an event."
Relegated to the lunch shift, Fox soon worked his way into the evening rotation. His repertoire began to change as well. The days of Beatles covers ended when he met two former members of the Gipsy Kings, Manolo and Lito, who performed at the restaurant and around town. Playing percussion, Fox sat in with them a few times and picked up some choice guitar tips. Specifically, the Spaniards taught him to play the passionate, frenetic, flamenco-rumba rhythm. He was inspired to begin writing songs with a distinct Latin flavor but with plenty of pop appeal as well, a genre commonly called nuevo flamenco.
It didn't take Fox long to build a fan base. But, as is so often the case in the life of Alex Fox, his fans wanted more. They wanted to be able to take his music home. So he borrowed money from a friend and went into a recording studio, where he created two cassettes of original songs. "People started buying them like crazy, so I bought better equipment, paid for better sound, and started hiring musicians," he says. Fox has self-released a CD every year since 1994. (This year's edition is due out later this month.)
Fox doesn't like to talk about sales figures, but it's safe to say that over the past four years they've reached well into the tens of thousands. Most of his diehard fans, of course, are tourists. Computer executive Robert Parr heard Fox while on a visit from Puerto Rico three years ago. He bought a CD and took it home to his wife Susan. She was hooked. This trip, he and Susan cruised to Miami on their boat. Naturally, seeing Fox is at the top of their agenda. They not only took in Fox's stage show but also bought his other two CDs to round out their collection. The guitarist poses for a picture with Susan. "What does his music do to me?" she squeals. "It's incredible! You don't want to know!"
Admiration isn't limited to fans. According to I Paparazzi owner Basabe, other restaurant owners "have tried to steal him away ten times a day by offering him lots of money and the chance to play."
Among fellow musicians, Fox's reputation is not quite as stellar. "I don't really like what he plays, but you have to admire the way he markets himself," says Gus Cuervo, a classically trained guitarist who plays for local art-rock band LOKI. "He's got a lot of stage presence and he does everything himself, like selling his own CDs. He really is that corny American dream: the self-made success story."
Ironically, the more popular Fox becomes, the less he performs on Ocean Drive. At this point, he limits himself to weekend nights during the busy season. This restricted schedule gives him time to pursue a growing number of other projects.
Last year, for instance, he played guitar on Julio Iglesias's album La Carretera. This year he was asked by Elle magazine to perform at a tribute for the late fashion designer Gianni Versace, at Versace's Fifth Avenue boutique in Manhattan. Fox will appear as himself and play one of his own compositions in the Eddie Murphy film The Holy Man, which is now being filmed in Miami. During the summers he tours (and sells CDs) in Europe.
With business booming and opportunities aplenty, why does Fox continue to play at an Italian restaurant geared primarily to tourists? Why hasn't the King of Ocean Drive reached for national success? For a couple of reasons, actually. First, Fox is a monarch who seems quite comfortable on his smallish throne. And second, he believes he owes his loyal subjects his continued presence.
"If someone offers me a contract -- a good deal -- I would probably take it. But this is the best place for me to be right now," he remarks, surveying the restaurant's bustling dining room. "I get great exposure here. I do great sales, and I respect very much the people who own the restaurant. There's no better thing than to share with the people. When I play on-stage, I sometimes forget they are there because I'm giving it my all, but when I finish and I see that look on their faces, the happiness that music creates, it's wonderful.